The Chinese restaurant scene on the Westside of L.A. has suddenly gotten a whole lot brighter. Up until now, as my Huffington Post readers well know, I have been touting the virtues of Hop Woo on Olympic & Sepulveda as authentic eat-in or take-out, although the setting is somewhat... sparse. I highly recommend Joss, diagonally across from the Peninsula Hotel, as wonderful upscale fare, although it only contains 25 seats. There's Vicky's healthy Xi'an on Canon and the overpriced, hit-or-miss celebrity haunt Mr. Chow's on Camden, as well as the very beautiful and controversial Chi Lin up on Sunset (where Yujean Kang came and went quickly as the chef)... and that was it... until now. I had noticed the large, upscale Moon House (11058 Santa Monica Blvd., 310-966-9988) being built where there was once a donut shop in the strip mall on the south side of Santa Monica Blvd., at Sepulveda about one block from the 405 Freeway. But after a lunch with Cecile Tang of Joss, who told me that she had explored the new eatery and was suitably impressed, I stopped in one evening recently on the way home and didn't leave for three hours. Then returned for lunch the next day, followed by a dinner with friends on the weekend. Still cannot believe the wonder of it all, we have a superb and attractive new Chinese restaurant well within driving distance and they deliver to the entire Westside. Another plus: This restaurant is open fifteen hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., and even to 2 a.m. on weekends -- unbelievable, those long hours and yes, we will take advantage of them often. So be it, I'm thankful for life's little pleasures.
Shrimp with black bean sauce.
Wilson Ma is the experienced manager of the new restaurant.
I walked in that first night and there was an old friend serving as General Manager of the new eatery. Wilson Ma had been the first manager of Hop Woo when it opened a dozen years ago... and we had lost touch until tonight. He has been working at various Chinese places in the San Gabriel Valley, but said he felt that the westside of Los Angeles was still an untapped market for really good, authentic Chinese food and his backers agreed. Moon House does not have the hanging ducks and whole pigs hanging from hooks at the entrance, like the deli at Hop Woo, though Wilson told me that they indeed had a full complement of roast ducks in the kitchen. I took a roast fowl home that night ($25.99) and it was superb, not too spicy, cooked perfectly.
Chicken and Corn Soup is thick and delicious.
Like all of these eateries, they offer a long list of lunch specials at crazy reasonable prices. Here is a list of 30 or so specials at $7.50 and another two dozen at $8.50. The former list has such traditional dishes as Szechuan Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Baked Pork Chops w/Peking Sauce, and a stunning item which I immediately orderd and loved, Sauteed Pork Bellies with Chilli Peppers. The $8.50 specials included the usual Shrimp and Lobster Sauce and a steamed Tilapia Fish, as well as the Chef's Special Beef Fillet. All of the lunch specials are served with tea, soup and brown or white rice. I noticed a tableful of Sony studio guys here at Wednesday lunch -- a smart move.
This is the Cantonese roast duck which I took home last night.
Chef at the blazing wok.
Winston told me that they were going all out to make theirdumpling choices popular with the neighborhood, and on weekends their dim sum lunches have become very popular with aficionados who are unhappy with the dim sum at the Palace on Wilshire and Barrington. So I recommend you began this exploration with their Paradise Desire ($9.95), a sampling of har gow, sui mai, char siu buns, steamed chicken dumplings -- two of each. The har gow -- steamed shrimp dumplings, have the desired thin skins, and the white buns were fluffy and filled with spicy BBQ pork. I don't get the popularity of the cream cheese wontons (knowing that most cheese is anathema to Chinese) but the BBQ spare ribs and crispy egg rolls make up for them. Must have: Shanghai Xiao Long Bao ($6.95), steamed juicy pork dumplings known as 'soup dumplings.' First night saw me sipping the Chicken Corn Soup ($7.95) and since then have also tasted the Westlake Minced Beef Soup and my favorite, CrabMeat and Fish Maw Soup ($12.95), the creamy egg white chowder a base for the delicious seafood ingredients. (Fish maw? It's silky smooth.)
House chow mein is a fine take on a traditional dish.
Under the Chef's Signature Choices are a dozen specialties which will enchant the real Chinese food lover. Two hot pot choices: the Lamb Stew ($13.95), a boiling broth of braised lamb and paper-thin tofu, and the popular Seafood Combination ($12.95), a mix of shrimp, scallop, squid, fish, tofu and vegetables in a spicy brown sauce -- delectable. The Peking Duck (half, $15.95, whole $31.95) is carved at the table and filled into thin buns atop scallions and hoisin sauce. As I mentioned, the Cantonese Roast Duck is $25.95 and equally good, especially for take-out. I happen to love Chinese-style lamb, here served as Zi Ran Lamb ($12,95), cumin-marinated lamb stir-fried with onions and cilantro. There is a steamed filet of sole ($12.95) and for beef lovers, a French-style Filet Mignon ($14.95) in which the talented chef takes slices of choice filet mignon and stir-fries them with asparagus and white onions on his special black pepper sauce. There's a dish where large sea scallops are battered with bread crumbs, then deep-fried to golden brown, with a tangy lemon sauce.
Sauteed Pork Bellies with chilies is an authentic Chinese dish... and wonderful.
All of the usual suspects in the beef, chicken and pork sections. Chinese vegetables hold a special place in my heart, for somehow they come out better than you would ever expect. There's a unique item called snow pea leafs, and here the tendrils are sauteed with a touch of garlic ($13.95), The Mapo Tofu ($8.95) is not the usual spicy horror; here it is locally-made soft tofu cooked with a spicy light brown sauce. I like the Hot Braised String Beans, Hot Szechuan Egg Plant, Sauteed Spinach and the sublime Baby Bok Choy with Mushrooms. All the regular Fried Rice choices, and then you come to the Noodle/Chow Fun/Chow Mein section of the menu. I well know that Chow Mein is an American invention but nevertheless I have loved it ever since I first ate it for 35 cents in a Brooklyn chow mein joint as a kid. Here I happily consumed the BBQ Pork Chow Mein ($8.95) and the House Special Chow Mein with seafood. Lots of crispy vegetables in a wonderful sauce, yes! There is a Chinese luncheon dish called "Jook", here called porridge, which is a thick cereal served with lots of tiny slivers of such things as minced beef and seafood, as well as one called 'Preserved Egg Porridge ($6.95).
Beautiful Chinese actress Teresa Cheung argues the superiority of Chinese cuisine.
In a conversation at lunch today today with the famous, lovely actress Teresa Cheung, she argued that Chinese ranks up there with with French and Italian for diversity of dishes and complex flavors. Teresa's son Nicolas Bee ('epic beast'), said he thought Japanese food deserved a place in that equation. I begged to differ: I said that Chinese was superior to any other cuisine, for we must remember that in 1000 BC, the Chinese were serving hundreds of exciting complex dishes in restaurants when the rest of the world was living in squalor. We in the West have been striving to catch up ever since, but to no avail. Make a trip to MOON HOUSE and you will quickly taste why I think my argument is right. Chinese wins every time.